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Technicians make repairs to bitcoin mining machines at a mining facility operated by Bitmain in Ordos, Inner Mongolia. Photo: Bloomberg

Bitmain’s two founders to step aside as Chinese cryptocurrency giant taps software coder as new CEO

  • Bitmain accounts for 75 per cent of the world’s specialised computers used to earn new units of digital money

Bitmain Technologies, the world’s biggest maker of cryptocurrency mining rigs, is poised to name a new chief executive to replace company co-founders Wu Jihan and Zhan Ketuan, people with knowledge of the matter said.

The potential successor is Wang Haichao, who currently holds the position of product engineering director at the Beijing-based company, but has already taken over duties from co-chief executive Wu and Zhan in a transition period that started in December, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the information is private.

There is no timetable yet for Wang to take over the chief executive position from Wu and Zhan, who will remain as the company’s co-chairs, one of the people said.

Bitmain declined to comment on the leadership change, which was first reported two weeks ago in local media. Wang could not be reached for comment.

After Wang takes over, Wu and Zhan will move away from the company’s day-to-day business activities but will still make final calls on big decisions, one of the people said. It has been reported that the pair disagreed on certain issues as co-chief executives.

Before Bitmain, Wang worked at Beijing-based semiconductor design house Availink from 2010 to 2017, in roles that included software programmer and product manager, according to Chinese media. He graduated from Beijing’s Tsinghua University, considered to be the Massachusetts Institute of Technology of China.

Bitmain, which accounts for 75 per cent of the world’s specialised computers used to earn new units of digital money, is going through tough times amid a prolonged bear market in cryptocurrencies. In 2018, bitcoin -- the world’s biggest form of digital money -- lost more than 70 per cent of its value. In total nearly US$500 billion has been wiped off the value of the more than 2,000 cryptocurrencies in the market.

In September, Bitmain filed an application to publicly list in Hong Kong, following a similar move by smaller Chinese rivals Canaan Creative and Ebang International Holdings. However, the city’s market regulator and stock exchange operator are unlikely to approve initial public offerings for any cryptocurrency-related business, citing the lack of regulation in the industry, people familiar with the situation told the Post previously.

Last month, Bitmain said it was planning lay-offs amid the industry crunch, though it did not specify the extent of the job cuts.

At the end of June, Bitmain had 2,594 full-time employees including some 840 engineers, according to its IPO prospectus. Currently the company has over 3,000 staffers and is planning to let at least a third of them go, a person familiar with the company’s personnel changes said.

Wu and Zhan, who founded Bitmain in 2013, hold 21 per cent and 37 per cent of the company respectively, according to the IPO prospectus. Under a dual-class share structure, they both have 10-1 voting rights over ordinary shareholders.

Wu, who studied economics and psychology at Peking University, rose to fame on Twitter, where he has 115,000 followers, after lashing out at trolls who attacked his stance on how bitcoin should be developed. The 32-year-old is a vocal supporter of bitcoin cash, the biggest offshoot of bitcoin which split in two last year.

Zhan, 39, who also goes by the name Micree, was a graduate of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the technical mastermind behind Bitmain. He led the company’s recent foray into the field of artificial intelligence chips under the brand Sophon.